Friday, June 29, 2007

What the Hell Am I Thinking?

Despite being busy working on a dissertation, raising an 8-yr. old who's going on 16, and taking care of my wonderful 8-month old baby girl, I seem to be thinking A LOT about being pregnant again. Yep, I said it; it's finally out there.

Due to a variety of issues with the Pill, I've decided to go off it. I unexpectedly ended up not having any pills left this past month, and the difference has been amazing. I've had energy, a sex drive, and I've generally been much happier. Between the hormone problems that come with borderline PCOS (which I was diagnosed with when we were trying to conceive) and the fact that I'd only recently stopped taking the pill, we figured we were pretty safe in having sex this past month. As I was waiting for my period, though, I started counting the cycle days and realized we had indeed had sex on one of my peak ovulation days (had I been ovulating). So, we knew the chance was there, but weren't too worried about it. Hubby said, "If it happens, it happens." I didn't really want to be pregnant, but there wasn't anything I could do about it by then, so I just waited. After I was a couple days late, I got concerned. In the end, we were right, and we were safe: period came, not pregnant.

At my annual gynie visit, I told him of my decision to go off the Pill and explained that hubby and I want to have a third (and final) child, and we'd probably start trying next August (2008). [Reasoning: This way, I'd be pregnant while finishing diss revisions, but not showing while on the market. I'd deliver just after the Spring 08 term is over and have the summer to stay home with baby. And, we're both funded for up to three years after completion, so we wouldn't be in fear of being kicked out into the cold, cruel world.] He said IUDs are really meant for women not wanting to get pregnant at all or at least for 3-5 years, so he suggested I not go that route. Instead, he recommended that we either use condoms or the natural family planning method (or both), especially if it wasn't going to be a problem if I did end up pregnant unexpectedly. I just don't like condoms. I have this weird thing about a "condoms just aren't for married people" mantra. I know it doesn't make sense, but it just seems odd to be using a condom with my husband.

The point is that over the past month, all of this has gotten me thinking about pregnancy - again.

On the Con side of this issue:
1) I'm a busy academic mother, married to a busy academic father, and we're both living on graduate student budgets (meaning we pay the bills, but there ain't nothing left over). The only way we could afford daycare for another baby is by dipping into the financial aid we get each semester.
2) We both want to finish by next fall and plan to enter the market then as well. Hubby is fairly emphatic that dissertations must be almost finished before any baby making can begin.
3) Every once in a while, I realize that I would be lost trying to care for a newborn, while also trying to enjoy all of the baby- & toddler-hood that's left to come from Baby E. My mother has added her two cents that "it's not fair to E" to have another baby so quickly.
4) And then there's the shudder of shame I feel when just thinking about the idea of having to tell my dissertation advisor that I'm pregnant - again - while finishing my dissertation. Not that she'd judge, but I'm sure she'd be disappointed in my decision-making ability (and possibly question my committment to academia).
5) I'm still not sure if any of this is related to my previous breastfeeding issues. Not that I'll ever get completely over those feelings, but I'd hate for a decision like this to be primarily driven by them.
6) I'm not fond of the idea of having another child in daycare.

On the Pro side of the issue:
1) I really can't help the feeling that I'd love to be pregnant right now...or soon. I actually like being pregnant. I like the specialness of it. It's such a unique time and experience, and I enjoy it.
2) As I've been told time and again by long-tenured faculty, I'll never have as much time as I have right now. It only gets busier in terms of academia, especially once you're on the tenure track. From what I can tell, most places don't stop the tenure clock while women go off to have a baby.
3) As far as money goes, we have health insurance, and at least right now we aren't paying back any student loans.
4) I *think* we could both still get our dissertations written on schedule. Actually, as grad students who only teach 1 class, we're in the most flexible positions we'll be in for a looooong time. We schedule our office hours, our diss hours, etc. and we have no committee obligations.
5) I don't really believe that I'm somehow cheating my baby if I were to decide to have another one soon. Lots of people, for a variety of reasons, plan and deliver their babies close together.
6) In the end, I'm never going to let what other people think stop me from making my own reproductive decisions, whether they be advisors, faculty, family, or friends.
7) I'd get to breastfeed come hell or high water!!
8) I know my husband and I would do our best to limit time in daycare.

These lists aren't exhaustive, but they represent the kind of internal dialogue I'm having with myself. I haven't shared all of this with my husband, because I think he'd freak out. But I can't deny that these are my feelings. I really wish I knew why I'm feeling this way!! I don't have many readers, so I'm not counting on much light being shed here, but at least it's out. I've put these feelings down somewhere. Maybe they'll subside. I've been hoping they would. I keep thinking that if I just focus on my girls, stay busy with them, stay busy with my dissertation, that this quasi-yearning will go away. Maybe it's temporary? My brain and my gut seem to be pulling in opposite directions. I'll keep praying to find some guidance, and we'll see what happens.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Good Things do Happen

Unfortunately, these days I actually have more ideas for blog posts than I have time to blog. But, I'd like to stay committed to the blog, at least one post a week, because it's just a useful process for me. A few good things have happened recently, and they couldn't have come at a better time.

First, a panel that I'd proposed for a conference this fall was accepted - yay! Even better, I've already got panelists, and I've already got my paper drafted. The best part is that this conference is the same conference I attended a few years ago, at which time my paper was solicited for publication by one of the co-editors of a really good journal in my field. I got his card, remember him, and I'm totally hoping to run into him again in the fall. My Grand Plan is to be able to say to him "Remember how I said that paper was part of a larger project? Well, it is: my dissertation. And it just so happens that I've got a chapter right here for your review should you like to take a look-see at it." Yes, a bit dramatic and wishful thinking of me, but I'm thinking ahead.

Second, I just had a fantastic meeting with my dissertation advisor! She liked the draft "chunk" I'd given her; she thinks I'm right on target in terms of progress on the diss; more importantly, she thinks my project is coming together "quite nicely." Alas, I am a complete slave to her approval and positive reinforcement. Truth is, I want to be her when I grow up.

In terms of the dissertation, though, I'm extremely insecure about my writing and my ideas, so I'm never really convinced that I'm doing good work until I hear "someone else" say that I am (not just anyone, of course). I've been stressing lately about just getting something down, getting some writing done, just to see if it's on the right track. I've got about 40 pages or so, which isn't much. It's nowhere near what I'd hoped to have done by now. But, I've realized that measuring my productivity in terms of how many pages I got done each day, week, month wasn't working for me anymore. After talking with my advisor, I've realized how unrealistic my goals were to begin with, and I've come up with a different strategy for measuring my progress. I also asked her if I could start coming in for more frequent meetings - every 3 weeks - which I think will help in terms of working out ideas more clearly before they hit the page and realizing the kinds of framework I have to provide for my readers (like I hadn't really thought out the differences in addressing the performance of dramatic works vs. addressing the text of published dramatic works; do I speak of viewers or readers?).

What I originally thought could be one chapter that would cover three early modern women writers is now becoming two (possibly three) chapters. A big difference considering I has hoping to have the chapter done by the end of the month --HA!

But I'm much more comfortable in the process now. I feel like as long as I'm researching for this chapter and staying focused on what else I may need to know to continue drafting, I'm doing pretty well.

I'm doing so well, I think I'm going to go to the gym. This is a desperately needed activity right now.Like, I won't wear shorts outside the house (except to the gym) - despite the fact that the heat index is 100 degrees - until the jiggly-bits of cottage cheese are eradicated from my legs. Seriously, my thighs have more hail damage than a used car lot, and it just shouldn't be this way. I'm not fat or anything, but I'm seriously out of shape. Enough body-hating for now. Enough dissertating for the week. If I'm ever going to take my daughters to the pool this summer, I've got to sweat away the dimples, so I'm off!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Gay Pride Parades; Or, Queer Activism (or not) at a Not-So-Queer School

Gay Prof’s post on the Boston Gay Pride Parade got me thinking about my own past attempts (meager as they may be) to participate in queer activism. As a lowly grad student teaching the required comp and lit courses in a R-I school that has a demographic that's white, southern, often rural, and just as often racist, sexist, and homophobic, I struggle to find ways to introduce issues that deal with both gender and sexuality, but especially the latter. Most of my students are freshman and sopphmores, and the last thing they want to do is take my required ENGL course. To the point, though, I offered an extra credit assignment one summer in a literature course. It wasn’t required, but since there weren’t many events on campus during the summer, this was a shot for some “gimme” points. The offer was for students to attend the not- too- far- away Gay Pride Parade in Very Large Town. They weren't given any agenda. Go. Check it out. Talk to people if they wanted. Observe. That kind of thing. Then, the only thing they had to do was to write thoughtfully and critically about the event (8 pgs. or so), how it reinforced/changed any previous assumptions they may have had about the queer community, straight people, consumerism, political activism (these are just a few of the prompts I provided, but they were free to take their own line of questioning). While I provided some starting questions, they turned out to be unnecessary, as the few students who went had lots to say on their own. One of the main comments was how "corporate sponsored" the event was. Many of them - and these are 18 & 19 yr old straight kids from small-ish country towns - said that it seemed like much of the purpose and political goals of the event were overshadowed by the fact that it was just another event at which to party and spend lots of money.

Another student commented, in response to one of the writing prompts that addressed hatred/discrimination, that she'd seen two lesbians holding a small girl (presumably their child), and the girl's hair had been buzzed and she was wearing the rainbow shirt. In the student's response, she suggested that this instance was no different than watching two parents take their child to a white pride rally, because the child was in effect being "brainwashed" from the start. She wasn't really being given the option of not supporting the event, and for the student, this was a problem.

Now, these responses received no feedback from me. As long as the writing was complete, thoughtfully, organized, etc. the student got the extra credit. But, the learning experience for me came from someone at the parade who spoke with one of my students. One of my male students took his girlfriend with him. After being eyed for a while, the woman next to him said “What are you doing here? Aren’t you straight?” He explained the extra credit opportunity (which he didn’t even need actually), and she said “That’s really awesome. More people at your school should be doing things like this.” Then, she introduced her girlfriend to them, and they talked some more.

My questions are plenty: Was this really a good thing I did? Should I have responded to the students’ writing? And if so, how? I mean, I wasn't going to grade them on whether or not I agreed with their responses. Some of their comments remained fairly juvenile and simplistic in terms of intellectual energy. But others brought up some really good points, which I may not have been able to address adequately and articulately had I tried to respond. (And as an aside, all my gay and lesbian friends have disappeared to other universities – big shocker there – so I didn’t have their input). Was my effort well-intentioned, but juvenile itself? Or, does it count as some kind of activism in its own right? I’d like to think so, as I’m lacking in opportunities for queer and feminist activism these days. I hope to be able to teach courses on the History of Sexuality and Queer Theory someday, so this is an important issue for me. I’m just at the wrong place to get any guidance for doing so ..sigh.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Competitive Parenting: A Piggyback

M opened the bloggy door with her post on competitive mothering, and I just had to throw my thoughts in the mix. Although M seems to limit her discussion to mothering, I think there's sufficient evidence (i.e. "My boy can run that ball up the field faster than your boy" says Crazy Football Dad #1 to CFD #2) to show that this isn't exclusively a Mommy thing, which is why I discuss it in terms of parenting generally.

As anastasia suggests in the comments and M’s own post implies, the answer to the question of "why do parents compete?" is: our children are reflections of us. Not in reality, of course, but parents often feel that way. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we (parents) mold our little one(s) based on what we think is right, good, and/or in their best interest. So, when we compare our children's latest marker of success, we might as well be seeing which parent can win the rock-tossing contest (to be polite). However, when someone criticizes, questions, or compares our decisions as a parent, they might as well be driving a stake through our hearts. Indeed, a questioning of our child’s development (or lack thereof) is the equivalent of questioning our own intelligence and morals: it’s personal, damn it! Or so it would seem. It doesn’t have to be this way though. It takes a conscious effort to avoid the temptation of competitive parenting, and there are many times when I slip (like the time I shouted to H “Push her back!” at a spring soccer game, in which the girls from the other team were seriously playing dirty and totally getting away with it). Hey, nobody’s perfect! And even though I’m generally an Alpha personality-perfectionist, this is one area where I have to force myself to think before I speak (or worry, get upset, or compare). A few things to note:

1) It’s not about *you* (the universal “you,” that is): Parents rarely "get" a child to perform a benchmark action (sitting up, crawling, walking, talking, etc.). Rather, the *child* is responsible, and mom and dad are there to help along the way. Help is all we can do, though, because if the child isn't developmentally ready, then she just isn't ready - no matter what parents do. And it is neither a failure on the part of the parents OR the child.

2) The first one is the Practice Child: From my own experience, it gets easier after the first child, who I (unoriginally) term The Practice Child. When my first child was born, I constantly compared my oldest daughter, H, to all other babies her age. She was the fattest, healthiest baby in the group. She never even had an ear infection until she was 2! But, even at 7-months old, she didn't sleep through the night. I tried adding cereal to her bottle once I switched to formula, and she didn't sleep one minute longer. She just wasn't a sleepy baby, and she was never a napping kind of toddler either. Eventually, I just had to realize that I wasn’t in control of her developments, and this was part of her own very unique physiology and personality. It still is. No matter how late she stays up, she's up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to go early the next morning.

3) Let it go: With my (new) baby, everything has been completely opposite from H. She’s not the fattest baby in our “circle of baby-having friends,” she’s been ill more often than H was, and she’s not crawling yet. But this time around, I seriously don’t care. She is her own little self. She’s not any one of the other babies I know, so I really, truly don’t care what she can/can’t do in comparison with them. I’m also genuinely happy for the developments that my friends’ babies have made, as those milestones represent really happy moments for those moms and dads. Letting go of the competitive, pissing-contest attitude I had when my oldest daughter was younger has left me feeling…well, free. I feel like I’m free to live in the moment – in each moment – with both my girls because I’m not worrying about the next milestone each one needs to reach. With E, she’ll crawl when she crawls. Nobody gives a Big Blue Ribbon to the baby (or the parents of the baby) who crawls first. Similarly, nobody gives a Big Dunce Cap to the baby (or the parents) of the baby who’s last to sleep through the night. Honestly, the babies could care less, and isn’t it supposed to be about them anyway?

4) Do you really want to be *that* parent? Also known as the Helicopter mom/dad, the Hoverer, Crazy Soccer Dad, and the list goes on, competitive parenting can get nasty (see this post). I personally don’t ever want my children to *not* think for themselves, be responsible for themselves, and praise *themselves* for their accomplishments (not me). As a college instructor, I’ve seen what kinds of kids are produced by competitive parents, and they are truly some of the worst students. Seeing my children do well will bring me happiness, no doubt. But seeing my children do well because *they* made it happen (not me) will mean that I’ve done my job.